IF YOU WANT to understand the future, look to the past. Or, this weekend, drive to it. Yesteryear will be on full display at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the foie gras-filled gathering that attracts many of the loveliest classic cars on the planet. And because those rolling histories usually come toting their well-heeled owners, luxury automakers use the event as an occasion to connect with potential customers and show off something shiny. More often than not, that means concept cars with the kind of curves that tantalize the primal brain. Vehicles that won’t get anywhere near a production line, but offer a look at how their designers and engineers are thinking about what comes next.
Today, Infiniti takes its turn with the reveal of the Prototype 10, a four-wheeled rendition of a land-lubbing manta ray. The car sits halfway between two concepts Infiniti has shown in the past year: the Prototype 9, a fully electric retro-style racer with exterior wheels with room for one that made its debut at last year’s Concours, and the Q Inspiration, the svelte sedan that wowed crowds at January’s Detroit Auto Show.
The 10’s electric bit makes sense. Like many of its competitors, Infiniti has pledged to offer a plug-in hybrid or fully electric version of every new model starting in 2021. (The Q Inspiration came with the clever variable compression ratio engine that Nissan, Infiniti’s parent company, developed to increase the lifespan of the internal combustion engine.) The automaker hasn’t revealed any engineering details, but the smart money says that, like the Prototype 9, the 10 is running the powertrain from the latest Nissan Leaf, which includes a 40-kwh battery and a 147-horsepower motor. No words on specs either, but no matter—the 0 to 60 mph time of a car that never gets made isn’t exactly important.
A chin spoiler on the front bumper generates downforce, to keep the car glued to the asphalt at speed. The completely flat underside improves aerodynamics. The footprint of the car allows plenty of room for two, but Infiniti’s design team catered to the selfish sort of customer with a single seat setup. The space where you’d expect to see a passenger is instead dedicated to a whopping cooling duct, channeling air to keep the battery from overheating.
The cockpit is sparse, with a racing-style flat-bottomed wheel and little in the way of distracting screens and buttons. There’s no mention of the Pro Pilot Assist semi-autonomous system Nissan and Infiniti have put in their cars (including the Q Inspiration).
The idea is to focus on the driver—even though the age of autonomous driving is nigh. And that, really, is the ultimate statement here: Infiniti is not going to make a single-seat car. It’s unlikely to roll out a fully electric sports car anytime soon. But the Prototype 10 signals that even as the ways it builds cars advance, it wants to stay focused on the slower evolving human beings inside them.
This article first appeared in www.wired.com
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